Choose Your Own Holiday Health Adventure

Happy Holidays, ScintillaLife readers and followers!

The holiday season can be a trap for unhealthy decisions, between the get-togethers with lots of food, high-calorie treats, and seasonal foods, plus being extra busy with less time to work out and bad weather discouraging going outside.

The good news is, you don’t have to succumb to the siren song of the season! Check out this “Choose Your Own Holiday Adventure” to learn how you can wrangle the power of tips and tricks to help you participate while making smart choices, set yourself up for success, and change your mindset.

Each situation is called an Opportunity – it is a chance to make a decision that will contribute to your health during the holidays (and throughout the year!). Keep track of your answers and find the scores at the end of this post.

Opportunity 1

The holiday season is coming up! Last year, you gained a few pounds during the holidays, and now you’ve realized you never lost the extra weight. You decide to set a goal for yourself. Which do you choose?

A. Challenge yourself to match the weight you gained last year, and even gain a pound or two more.

B. Challenge yourself to lose all the weight you gained last year before January 1 – then you’ll be in shape to go to the gym for your Resolution!

C. Challenge yourself to maintain your weight for now, then focus on losing weight after the holidays are over.

 

Opportunity 2

You want to get a jump on wrapping gifts for your kids, so you stay up after they go to sleep and watch a movie on TV while you wrap. Once the gifts are wrapped, the movie is still on for two hours! What do you decide to do?

A. Go to bed – you’ll feel better if you get enough rest.

B. Watch the movie for one more hour, even though you know you’ll be groggy tomorrow.

C. Stay up and watch the movie – you can catch up on sleep during the weekend.

 

Opportunity 3

You want to have some friends over to spend time together between all the rush and fuss of the holidays. Which type of get-together will you host?

A. A potluck dinner where everyone brings their specialty dish

B. Game night with a few snacks served

C. A cookie exchange

 

Opportunity 4

The annual company holiday party is tonight, and the company always make sure to serve great food! What do you do to prepare for the food you know you’ll eat?

A. Skip breakfast and have a light lunch to save calories for the party.

B. Don’t eat throughout the day so you can eat as much of the party food as possible.

C. Eat meals and snacks as you normally would.

 

Opportunity 5

After mingling at the company party, you find yourself feeling full, but there are still foods you haven’t tried yet. What do you do?

A. Make a small plate to take home – you can try some of these items tomorrow.

B. Set out to eat at least one of everything you haven’t yet tasted before you leave.

C. Pick out the things you haven’t tried that look most appetizing and just have a small sample.

 

Opportunity 6

You’re out running errands before heading home to make and decorate your favorite holiday cookies with your family. A display with bags of red and green M&Ms catches your eye just as you’re jonesing for a sweet treat. What do you decide to do?

A. Buy a bag and treat yourself to a few handfuls before leaving the parking lot – that sugar craving was really nagging you!

B. Buy a bag and eat a few M&Ms while you drive – you would be a Grinch if you didn’t eat the festive candy!

C. Pass up the M&Ms – you can get regular M&Ms anytime; besides, you’re about to make and eat yummy cookies!

 

Opportunity 7

The whole family is together for a holiday dinner, and Great Aunt Gertrude made her famous roast goose. Since it is one of your all-time favorite food that you only get to eat once a year, what will you do?

A. Savor it and use the Fork Trick – set down your fork between each bite to take the time to really enjoy the goose.

B. Eat as fast as possible so you can get seconds before your cousin takes the last piece, like he always does.

C. Skip side dishes and eat a bigger serving of goose – why eat other foods when you’re really in it for the bird?

 

Opportunity 8

Your spouse sends you to the grocery store with a list. The two of you have talked about trying to eat healthier during the holidays. You notice items on the list such as cream cheese, milk, canned veggies, and rib eye steaks. What do you do?

A. Throw out the list and instead take home lots of fresh veggies, dried beans, and rice.

B. Stick to the list, but choose healthier versions of each item (neufatchel cheese, 1% milk, reduced-sodium veggies, and sirloin steaks).

C. Follow the list. Your spouse probably has a plan.

 

Opportunity 9

You get stuck at work and only have 15 minutes to exercise when you get home before heading to a New Year’s party. You had planned to work out for a whole hour, but since you can’t, what will you do instead?

A. Skip it – it’s not enough time to really make a difference anyway.

B. Remind yourself to make a New Year’s Resolution to start working out tomorrow, then leave for the party.

C. Exercise for the 15 minutes and plan to sneak in some extra standing and walking around the party instead of sitting down.

 

Answers

  1. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

  2. A – 2, B – 1, C – 0

  3. A – 0, B – 2, C – 1

  4. A – 1, B – 0, C – 2

  5. A – 2, B – 0, C – 1

  6. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

  7. A – 2, B – 0, C – 1

  8. A – 1, B – 2, C – 0

  9. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

 

Scores

11-18 points: You’re making healthy decisions most of the time!

4-12 points: You’re on the right track!

0-3 points: Practice recognizing opportunities to improve your health!

 

Please share your favorite healthy holiday tips below and whether you learned any tips from taking the quiz! Download my Healthy Holiday Toolkit for helpful reminders of tips and tricks to steer you through the season!

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Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition WandThere is no magic nutrition wand. And no, I’m not hiding one in my desk drawer while telling you this. Good nutrition is a lifestyle, not a rule book. It’s a moving target for every person since every day is not the same and there are constantly new foods and new choices. No single food will make or break your health, eaten in moderation. As a mentor dietitian once told me, “I never give my patients meal plans because I want to teach them how to eat, not what to eat.”

I come from a background philosophy that every food fits a healthy lifestyle. There are parameters, though. Portion size is one of those. A person can’t gorge them self on less nutritious foods daily and expect to be healthy. A few chips with a sandwich at lunch, though, or a small bowl of ice cream once in a while are fine. As long as you don’t have nutrition-related health problems or metabolic disorders, there is not necessarily any need to strictly prohibit any particular food. But you still have to be mindful of what else you eat and how much you eat.

The question “Can I eat __________?” will often be met with, “That depends.” It depends on several factors: what else you eat and how much as previously mentioned, but also how often you eat that food, how much exercise you do, the health risks you may have, and what you’re trying to achieve, among others.

Nutrition is simultaneously unclear since it is not black-and-white, while also being much simpler than how it is generally perceived. A varied diet of foods from each food group is a great general rule of thumb, and figuring out the details is where things get a bit trickier. That’s what I am here for, to help give you the tools to navigate the choices available in world full of food. So even though there is no magic nutrition wand I can share with you and I won’t tell you what you can and can’t eat, conscious decisions about food choices can lead to a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle.

Snack Happy

If you’ve never felt famished two hours before your next meal or undermined your healthy eating plans by desperately grabbing for a less-than-nutritious snack simply because it’s available, this might not be the article for you.

If, however, you are like me and can go from content to ravenous in a moment or are prone to making poor food choices when junk food is the only thing available to stop your stomach’s insistent growling, well, you’ve come to the right place!

Snacking is tricky business. It is an entirely individualized balance of planning and preference. Here are a few factors that make snacking unique for each person:

  1. Snacking is not for everyone. Some people prefer to eat only at meals, and that is just fine.
  2. How much and how often you need a snack is based on your own body cues.
  3. Your body cues can change from day to day and may not always be consistent, so learning to pay attention to them is important! (Check out my post on Mindful Eating here.)

There are also lots of issues unrelated to body cues that people consider when they make decisions about what and when to eat, make the waters of snacking even murkier:

  1. Time of day and when the next conventional mealtime will happen.
  2. Whether there will be another opportunity to eat before being hungry.
  3. Hedonic characteristics of food – things like taste, smell, and appearance that can make someone want to experience that food.
  4. Weight management: People might think they need to avoid snacks to lose weight, but going to a meal feeling extremely hungry can lead to overeating. Snacking can help keep hunger in check and aid in making good food choices.

With all these snacking influences swirling around, it is important to arm yourself with preparedness to eat at the right time for the right reasons.

The best solution is to plan by keeping a snack on hand as often as possible. Choosing the right kind of snack will go a long way toward making effective snacking strategies.

snackA good snack should be a carbohydrate plus a protein. Carbohydrates (called ‘carbs’ for short) are starches and sugars frequently found in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Proteins are available mainly in meats, eggs, dairy products, and legumes (like beans, peas, and nuts). The carb + protein combination provides an optimal mix of energy (from the carbs) and fullness (from the protein).

To add even more power to your snack, choose nutrient dense sources of carbs and protein. Nutrient density is a term that nutrition professionals use to refer to the amount of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are found in a food. Nutrient dense foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy. Picking carb + protein pairings from these categories is a great way to plan snacks that will give you an extra dose of nutrition.

 yogurt and fruitHere are some ideas to get you started:

Yogurt with fruit and granola

Whole grain English muffin with nut butter

Raisins and almonds

Hard-boiled egg and whole grain toast

Banana or apple with peanut butter

Cottage cheese and peaches in light syrup

Melon or pear and cheese

Sugar snap peas and hummus

Tuna or chicken salad on whole grain pita

Whole grain crackers with cheese

Baked potato with salsa and cheese, or bean chili

Trail mix (this is great to keep on hand in your car or bag)

Whole wheat tortilla with refried beans, cheese, and salsa, heated in microwave

Banana and peanut butter rolled in whole wheat tortilla

Popcorn with nuts

Some final considerations for planning your snacks:

  1. Plan snacks that you want to eat.
  2. If your snack needs to be chilled, make sure you have a refrigerator or insulated lunch box with ice packs available.
  3. If you’re going to be out-and-about, make sure your snack is easy to eat and doesn’t require a lot of utensils.
  4. If you don’t end up feeling hungry, know that you don’t have to eat your snack!

What are your favorite go-to snacks?

 

Sources:

Nutrition & Weight Control course notes. University of Wyoming, 2012.

Nutrition411. Healthy snacks. Nutrition411. http://www.nutrition411.com/content/healthy-snacks-0. Published August 31, 2012. Accessed January 30, 2015.

Nutrition411. Snacks: How to choose healthy ones. Nutrition411. http://www.nutrition411.com/content/snacks-how-choose-healthy-ones. Published January 1, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2009.

 

Mindful Eating

Rustle up some grub.

Grab a bite.

Fix supper.

Go to dinner.

Take out.

Order in.

No matter how you say it, we all have to eat. Maybe that’s why there are so many different ways to express that eating is going to happen. We also use a variety of words to describe how we eat:

Gobble.

Munch.

Savor.

Chew.

Taste.

Sip.

Chomp.

Snack.

Graze.

Nibble.

Slurp.

Guzzle.

Scarf.

Chow down.

Think about how many of the words in the list above bring to mind a person eating very quickly. Most of them, right? How often do we use words that describe eating more slowly? It isn’t common to say that we eat thoughtfully, deliberately, or mindfully.

Mindful eating encompasses these ideas of really paying attention to what we eat. As described in Harvard University’s health newsletter, “Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.” In essence, mindful eating means the practice of really tuning in to the food you eat, the process of eating that food, and how that food stimulates your senses, including emotions and feelings of hunger or fullness.

Recent research has illustrated the positive effect on those who engage in mindful eating behaviors. A group of researchers completed four studies in which they examined, through a wide range of methods, how mindful eating might affect eating behaviors. The findings of all four studies indicated that mindfulness leads to reduced calorie consumption and increased likelihood of choosing fruit over sweets as a snack. These two factors led to the conclusion that mindful eating can encourage healthier eating. Mindful eating can also help to avoid development of chronic disease as well as provide a foundation for a healthy relationship with food. Additional research has found beneficial effects of mindful eating on aspects of health and well-being such as weight loss, improved glycemic control, higher fiber intake, decreased cortisol levels, lower anxiety, decreased inflammatory markers, and simply greater satisfaction from food.

Eating mindfully could also help you tune in to your body, noticing which foods make you feel great, and identifying when you feel hungry or full. You can adjust your eating habits to fit these cues from your body and likely find a state of improved health and confidence. This will all help to bring your eating patterns in line with words from the list above that indicate eating more thoughtfully and deliberately.

Mindful eating practices are very diverse, but can all contribute to a healthier lifestyle. It can be difficult to truly mindfully eat for someone who has never tried it before, but practice only makes it easier and more effective. Here are suggestions that you can choose from to help get you started:

  • Put 20 minutes on a timer and stretch out a normal meal to take up the full time.
  • Use your non-dominant hand to force you to focus on eating.
  • Begin your meal with 5 minutes of silence as you eat, considering how that meal came to be all the way from the farm to the plate.
  • Take small bites and chew thoroughly.
  • When you find yourself wanting to eat something, consider whether you are actually hungry, or if there is something else that you might need.
  • Remove distractions from your eating environment. This includes TV, radio, computer, and phone. Take a moment to prepare yourself for your meal as you sit down to it, uninterrupted.
  • Focus on each food as you take the first bite. Note the aroma, the color, the texture, how it feels to swallow. Think of the nourishment is provides your body as it is digested.

After really experiencing your meals using mindful eating practices, think about the words you might use to describe how you eat. Maybe words like savor, sip, and taste are more meaningful than they were before. We all have to eat, so why not get the most out of “grabbing a bite?”

mindful eating

Sources

Harvard University. Mindful eating. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/harvard_health_letter/2011/february/mindful-eating. Published February 2011. Accessed November 2014.

Jordan CH, Wang W, Donatoni L, Meier BP. Mindful eating: trait and state mindfulness predict healthier eating behavior. Pers Individ Dif. 2014;68:107-111.

Harris C. Mindful eating. Today’s Dietitian. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030413p42.shtml. Published March 2013. Accessed November 2014.

Hand B. 7 ways to eat mindfully on Thanksgiving or any day. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/blog/blog.asp?post=7_ways_to_eat_mindfully_on_thanksgiving_or_any_day. Published November 16, 2012. Accessed November 2014.